Kim Custer, a longtime public relations executive at Kia Motors of America and Mitsubishi Motors who once helped negotiate a deal with environmental protesters at Mitsubishi, died on May 20 in Lafayette, Ind. He was 62.
Custer, an avid car lover, had a jovial personality that he applied to his 22-year career in the auto industry, former colleagues say.
As a spokesman for Kia and Mitsubishi, Custer mingled with CEOs and assembly line workers, said Dan Irvin, general manager of corporate communications and public relations at Mitsubishi.
Irvin worked with Custer at Mitsubishi and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, now called the Association of Global Automakers.
"Everybody respected his work and his attitude," Irvin wrote in an e-mail.
From 1988 to 2001, Custer was Mitsubishi's corporate communications and public relations head.
It was there where Custer and Ellen Gleberman, who was chief legal officer and senior vice president of Mitsubishi, developed a bond while working on daily public relations matters, she said.
Dealing with activists
Gleberman remembers how they had to deal with Rainforest Action Network members who picketed at auto shows and Mitsubishi dealerships to protest the way some Mitsubishi subsidiaries were cutting down trees.
The San Francisco group, which launched the campaign in 1992, wanted Mitsubishi to stop using tropical timber, she said.
They met with the network for several years until reaching a truce. In 1998, the Mitsubishi units promised to end the use of "old-growth forest products," according to the network's Web site.
Custer then moved on to Kia in 2002, where he spent four years as corporate communications director.
After a brief stint as senior public relations advisor at MG Motors U.K. from 2006 to 2007, Custer last worked for the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers from 2007-10 as director of communications.
He graduated from Indiana University in 1971.
"Kim was a successful communicator because he was fun to interact with, and he was always positive," Irvin wrote. "He loved cars, and he loved the car business."